The advent of the VHS tape created a whole new world for movie fans in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For the first time, movies were easily accessible and affordable. Film lovers could consume films at an unprecedented rate…and they did. With this surge in demand came a surge of low-budget and direct to video films. Horror films were certainly no exception and the proliferation of these films is a bountiful one that fuels us 80’s horror fans to this very day. It’s therefore no surprise that due to this increase in output, there would be a few familiar faces along the way. One of these is Linnea Quigley.
With her signature scream, Linnea quickly became one of the 80’s premiere Scream Queens. With iconic films like The Return of the Living Dead, and lesser known gems such as Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Linnea has managed to gain and maintain fans for decades. Her confident, empowered and punk rock attitude imbued many of the characters she played throughout the years and created a Scream Queen image slightly different from a lot of the rest out there. Providing strong representations of sexually confident and powerful women has Linnea’s characters standing the test of time and becoming more and more relevant as time marches on.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Linnea for a bit during this year’s Idaho Horror Film Festival. This year she received the Trailblazer Award for her contributions as a strong woman in film and her outside charity work with various animal rights organizations.
Nightmare on Film Street: Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting. What was it that interested you about it?
Linnea Quigley: I think that what interested me about acting was that I was always very shy, and I wanted to not be. Everyone in LA was an actor, everyone was a model, and I wanted to do that. However, I was so shy. So, I kind of crept into it by doing a little modeling – which scared me really bad. Just being in front of the camera and I thought I was ugly. I started doing that and was getting bigger jobs and bigger jobs. And then from that, because I’m not very tall, I’m 5’ 2”, I got into being an extra. And then I saw all these stars and they were getting all these privileges, they get treated great, people bringing food for them, and they got paid a lot. At least I thought they were getting paid a lot. So then I started getting into movies as like a ‘featured extra.’ Or then a one-liner, which is the worst. Coming in and saying ‘Let’s go’ and walking away. It just feels so awkward. And then, I did a lot that I would get killed in and that’s how they found out that I was good at screaming and dying. It was really a web. I was also in a punk band. I played guitar and singing and writing. I had so much stage fright about that. Singing and playing guitar together was scary.
NOFS: That was in your band The Skirts?
LQ: Yes. The main band was The Skirts.
NOFS: Who were some of your musical influences at the time?
LQ: Well, Suzie Quattro, she was a bass player and a guitarist. She really influenced me. She was a woman out there, playing bass, singing and it was rock and roll! She influenced me I think THE most. Siouxsie and The Banshees. Debbie Harry. Also influences.
NOFS: You mentioned being rather shy. What is it about acting that appeals to you?
LQ: It’s scripted. I feel safe. I know what I’m going to say, I know what the other person is going to do. It’s not like, going to a party. When I go to a party, I don’t know how to go up to someone very well, or start a conversation.
NOFS: Was it a love of horror that attracted you to acting in horror films? Or was it a love of acting first and then a developed love of horror?
LQ: It was both. I loved horror as a kid. I watched so much of it. My poor dad would take us to drive-ins when I was underage and stuff, and we’d watch all these great movies. And it would just continue. I’d invite friends over to watch the Creature Feature, Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone. And it just so happened that in the 80’s they were doing a lot of really good horror films. That’s when I fell into this niche. And it was great. I found something that I never thought that I’d be able to do, and I was doing something I love.
NOFS: A lot of your characters are very strong, confident, empowering, self-aware, punk rock women. Characters such as ‘Trash’ or ‘Spider.’ Are these roles you can relate to? How have you seen the interpretation of your characters change over time?
LQ: I can relate to them. I let the dialogue just come to me and it just kind of happens. I don’t do all that backstory stuff like, ‘Who was my mother?’ ‘What’s my history?’ It’s not until I’m in front of the camera that I really know how it’s going to come through. It’s in the writing, that’s one thing. And a good director. And I make my decisions based on what is already there and feed off whoever I’m acting with too. I was getting in the 80’s and 90’s, from people who didn’t like horror, ‘Oh, you’re in THOSE kind of movies.’ And I was looked down on. And now it’s cool and people have kind of come around. At the time I wasn’t acknowledged for that. They just really didn’t care…
NOFS: One of your films, ‘The Return of the Living Dead’, was the first movie to really have zombies eating brains! The cultural relevance and impact this film has had on cinema has been huge. Do you find that many don’t even realize where that idea comes from?
LQ: Yeah! And that’s how you kill them too! And I think for the mainstream The Walking Dead helped a lot. It brought more of an audience back to the zombie film. Greg Nicotero has done effects on me before and he’s so nice and it’s so great to see someone like that really make it.
NOFS: When did you realize that you had a growing fan base out there? What film(s) do you consider your big break?
LQ: That’s a good question…I think after Return of the Living Dead and Night of the Demons. They both had big theatrical releases and not a lot of people realized that I was the same person. Some people read the credits, not many, usually people walk out after the movie is over. It started with a lot of people that were shy or didn’t get out of the house, were overseas, or just needed a release. Those films provided that for them. They weren’t too serious. They were just fun and a lot of people got hooked on that. And now, a lot of the directors I work with were fans of mine. Like, The Barn! Justin Seaman wrote it when he was 9. And he made it! And he always imagined me as the character that I ended up playing. Such a sweet guy.
NOFS: Let’s talk about Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout. It’s become a cult classic in its own right. How did that come about?
LQ: It when I was working on this psychological thriller called Murder Weapon. And Ken Hall – who wrote a lot of the films I was in, like Nightmare Sisters – was on set. I got done with this scene where I had this mallet and was going up and down for the camera. And then up and down this way. Closer! Then farther away! And up and down! So I came back, and he had been watching me, and he said ‘Wow, that’s pretty physical. Quite a workout.’ And then we just kind of looked at each other, and two weeks later we were filming it! It’s more popular now than it was then!
NOFS: You are very open about being vegan and an animal rights activist. How did you get involved with animal activism?
LQ:I had married someone who had been brought up in Texas as a vegetarian. And they’d been teased because that was not cool, and they couldn’t go to the hamburger stand. That, and PETA opened my eyes. I never, and I can’t believe this, I never thought about how the animals were being killed. And here I love animals! For some reason, and maybe I just didn’t want to see it, but when I saw the videos I was horrified. That’s when I decided that I was not going to stand for it. It changed my life.
NOFS: What are you working on now? Have any cool projects coming up?
LQ: Let’s see…I did The Barn, and then The Best Laid Plans with Ed Neil from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he’s great. Then I did The Last Thanksgiving, Camp Twilight and Clownado. I’ve had the feeling from the start that it’ll be a cult film. I can kind of see the signs. Todd Sheets is the director and I think he’s really gonna be a big one.
NOFS: Last thoughts?
LQ: You know, if you want to do something…just do it. They say on the other side of fear is success. You’ve got to just overcome your fear.